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Click Debate: What do we know about the Jon Jones doping case?

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

A little over a month ago, Jon Jones regained the UFC light heavyweight title with an incredible third-round knockout of Daniel Cormier in the main event of UFC 214. With Floyd Mayweather vs. Conor McGregor now out of the way, the conversation in MMA should be turning back to the Octagon, with Jones back to being the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world leading the discussion.

The story has been Jones over the last few days. But it has nothing to do with redemption or how superb a fighter he is. The top headlines in the UFC right now revolve around another drug-test failure from the brilliantly talented fighter.

Jones tested positive for the steroid turinabol stemming from an in-competition drug test July 28, one day before UFC 214 in Anaheim, Calif. For the second straight July, “Bones” tested positive for a banned substance; last year, he popped for clomiphene and letrozol, which kept him out of UFC 200 and led to him being suspended for a year.

The all-time great fighter’s legacy is being questioned and no one knows when — or if — he’ll fight again. Jones is facing up to a four-year suspension by USADA, the UFC’s anti-doping partner, and a fine and loss of his victory over Cormier from the California State Athletic Commission (CSAC).

CSAC executive officer Andy Foster told MMA Fighting on Saturday that Jones will likely have his appeal heard at a hearing Oct. 17 in Los Angeles. However, Jones’ team has yet to formally appeal the case with the commission, Foster said. The commission director said he does expect Jones to fight the impending sanctions, especially considering the nature of this situation.

Jones, 30, passed seven random, out-of-competition drug tests this year, including multiple in the first week of July. Many people, including Foster, are puzzled that Jones could be clean in all those tests, but then fail the inevitable in-competition screening that every fighter knows is coming.

Jones’ manager Malki Kawa said on a recent episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani that the team believes Jones must have ingested a tainted supplement between the out-of-competition test July 7 and July 28.

“The problem that we’re having with that is that he passes all of the random tests, but then the one test that we know about, the one that we for sure know about, is the one that we fail?” Kawa said. “So, something here is not sitting right. I’m assuming it’s the supplements we took. We just obviously got to get to work on it, see what was taken that month, that three-week period, that week of the fight, and figure it out from there.”

Last year, Jones claimed he took a contaminated sexual performance pill before UFC 200, which led to the positive test. Arbitrators in the case believed him, but still gave him the maximum suspension of one year due to reckless negligence. USADA handles the adjudication process for positive drug tests, but Jones could once again request having his case heard before third-party arbitrators.

Jones would have to be incredibly reckless to take a prohibited substance when he knew he’d be tested in competition. But even if you do believe his team, that it must have been a tainted supplement, Jones probably still has an uphill battle. If Jones was deemed negligent in 2016 on his first failed drug test, one would have to imagine USADA or a group of arbitrators won’t be inclined to exercise leniency this time. And it’s anyone’s guess what the California commission will do.

Even if Jones proves he ingested a contaminated supplement, there’s a chance he still gets suspended for more than one year as a multiple-time offender.

MMA Fighting reported this past week that Jones passed a fight-night drug test at UFC 214, adding another wrinkle to this story. But that’s solely a wrinkle on the surface. The fight-night drug test came from a blood sample and blood tests won’t show turinabol, the substance Jones tested positive for. Turinabol only shows up in a urinalysis, which is what was done for the July 28 test.

It’ll now be up to Jones and his team to come up with a supplement they can prove is contaminated with turinabol. It’s worth noting that tainted supplements — while mocked by some as a silly excuse — are actually not rare occurrences.

UFC fighters Yoel Romero, Tim Means and Lyman Good have been victims of prohibited substances not being on the label of the supplement they took. USADA gave them reduced, six-month suspensions after investigations and testing of the products those three had used.

It is certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Jones, for the second straight year, unknowingly put something in his body that contained a prohibited substance. It is hard to imagine him purposely taking a steroid before UFC 214 when he was visibly upset by all the times Cormier accused him of being a steroid user for years.

When Jones shot back at Cormier for those accusations, he was correct. The substances he tested positive for last year were not steroids. They were anti-estrogen agents. Jones had a right to be mad at Cormier’s allegations. He was not found to be using steroids and arbitrators ruled he wasn’t cheating, but simply negligent.

On July 21, Jones tweeted this: “Daniel says the only reason I defeated him the first time is because I must have been on steroids, wonder what his excuse will be this time.”

Jones didn’t test positive for steroids in relation to his first fight with Cormier in 2015. He didn’t pop for steroids before what would have been the fight with Cormier last year at UFC 200. But now he actually has failed a drug test for steroids and, even if he took turinabol unknowingly, he beat Cormier with a steroid in his system.

There’s no way around that and Jones will surely be punished for it.